Paul H. Williams, Gleaner Writer
NOT MANY years ago, home-made castor oil, produced from castor beans (oil nuts), used to be popular in this country as a laxative and as a hair and skin product. Though it is still produced by some rural people, has its popularity has waned significantly. Now, some students at Knox Community College, Mandeville campus, want the castor bean industry revived - on a large scale.
They are saying they notice that the evergreen shrub, which survives in all soil types and at all altitudes, grows in abundance on mined-out bauxite lands in Manchester. As a result of their observation, they decided to research the feasibility of the commercial production of castor beans in Jamaica.
The findings of their preliminary investigations were presented in a report called 'Castor Beans - What We Need' at a symposium at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville recently. By making their findings known, they say they hope to increase the level of awareness and garner interest in the potential mass production of this crop.
"We decided to carry out a preliminary investigation to determine the feasibility of this crop on bauxite mined-out soils. From our study, we realised the real viability of this potential crop which can transform our agriculture industry," the report says. They say they are concerned about "the effective utilisation of mined-out bauxite soils in Manchester. "Bauxite mines can now be transferred to the production of castor beans as the major future of the bauxite mined-out soil," they say in their report.
In speaking with Rural Express on Wednesday at Knox Community College's 'College Day', two of the student researchers, André Hibbert and Nicolas Ellis, said the cultivation of castor beans would be an excellent way of putting mined-out bauxite to land to productive use. They were at the event to sensitise patrons about the economic viability of the cultivation of castor beans.
It would seem from their research that castor oil is actually in demand overseas, and "the continuous cultivation of this crop will provide employment for hundreds of persons, and the sale and the export market will accrue tangible income for the industry. Jamaica is now experiencing grave economic challenges. If this crop is grown on a large scale, it could provide a reasonable income to (counter) our economic challenges".
The plant is ideal for commercial production for many reasons: the cultivation of the crop is not labour intensive, and because of its adaptability, it can be produced in a variety of soil and weather conditions; and it is drought resistant. Production is year-round, and the dried beans can be stored for a long time.
Every part of the plant, though poisonous, is useful. Ingesting the unprocessed beans can lead to extreme nausea and/or death. This poisonous property makes it unpopular with most animals and insects and renders it unpopular with praedial thieves. It will not be stolen for consumption. The leaves may be used to produce organic fertilisers and pesticides while the bean pods may be used for garden mulch and compost.
While the beans have well-known medicinal and cosmetic uses, a significant finding from their research is that castor oil is popular in the aviation industry as fuel. "We are aware that castor bean (oil) is used as fuel in the aeronautic industry. This fuel is very expensive and is in high demand," the student researchers say. It is also used as a motor lubricant and a slow-burning oil for lamps, in furniture polish, to prevent rusting and corrosion, and to control termites.